Going from grade school to middle school is a big step for any tween. One of the biggest changes is the school day itself. Students each have their own schedule and are responsible for arriving in each classroom prepared and on time. This requires staying organized and managing time efficiently. These skills can be challenging for kids with learning and attention issues. Here’s how to help your child prepare.
Prepare for a new building and changing classrooms.
The size of a middle school building can be intimidating for a student who is used to a smaller, cozier grade school. On top of that, middle-schoolers generally travel to a different classroom (and a different teacher) for each subject.
One of the best ways to help your child with this change is to make sure she attends her middle school orientation. Then build on orientation by revisiting the school together.
Bring the floor plan of the building and her schedule with you. Take time to walk around. Find her classrooms, the cafeteria, gym, library, bathrooms, and the nurse’s and administrator’s offices. Check her schedule to see how long the passing time is between classes. Then practice moving from room to room.
Your child may also have been assigned a locker during orientation. If so, find the locker and encourage her to practice using the combination. If the school doesn’t provide a lock, buy or borrow one several weeks before school starts so your child can get comfortable using it.
Don’t worry if a traditional combination lock turns out to be a problem. There are several alternatives available online that are specifically designed for children with dyscalculia and other learning and attention issues.
Gear up to follow the schedule.
Shortly before school starts, review your child’s schedule with her and look over the map of the school together. Write numbers on the map in the order in which she’ll go to class (writing a  next to her first-period class, a  next to second-period class, etc.).
Mark where her locker is so she understands where it’s located in relation to each class. Tape her map, along with her schedule, inside a notebook she’ll have with her in most classes.
Keeping class materials organized can also be a challenge when your child doesn’t have much time between classes. You may want to work together to color-code her subjects (use a blue notebook and a blue book cover for science, green notebook and book cover for social studies, etc.).
Prepare for the rules of conduct.
In middle school, teachers will be stricter about conduct. They’ll expect students to get to class on time, behave appropriately and perhaps dress according to a code. Before school begins or early in the school year, the school will probably distribute a student handbook that explains these rules. Review these guidelines carefully with your child and make sure she understands them.
Talk to the school staff if you’re concerned that your child’s learning or attention issues may lead to behavior that may be seen as “against the rules.”
Establish a support system.
Does your child have an Individualized Education Program (IEP)? If so, you’ll probably meet with members of the grade school IEP team the spring before middle school starts to discuss her progress and the next school year. Your child will probably have a new case manager in middle school. Find out who that person will be and arrange a meeting early in the new school year.
Once your child has settled in, you may want to ask the case manager for an IEP meeting. You can meet some of your child’s teachers and find out how your child is adjusting. Let them know how to reach you if they have any concerns, too.
If your child doesn’t have an IEP, it’s a good idea to set up a meeting with the guidance counselor before school starts. You could also request to meet with her teachers within the first month of classes to see how she’s progressing. Let them know the best way to contact you and find out how the teachers prefer to be reached.
Let your child know that it’s normal to feel a little nervous about starting middle school. Remind her that teachers and school staff understand, too, and can help her feel safe and comfortable.
Middle school is a big change from grade school. In addition to a different schedule and bigger building, your child will have more homework. Teachers will expect more from her academically. Check with your child often to ask how school is going. And you can always talk to other parents in our community for more ideas on how to help.